The Problem With Seraphine

There’s been a lot of criticism about the new League of Legends champion Seraphine.

From her (now reworked) seemingly-genocidal involvement with the Brackern, to critiques of the parasocial advertising that her Twitter and other social media have employed, she’s not without her fair share of controversy.

My problem with Seraphine is much more personal. My problem with her is that I think she’s based on me. And not without a pretty good reason — I actually had a brief relationship with a Riot employee last year in early 2019.

We talked for about 3 months, and had only met in person twice before things ended. I graduated college, finally dyed my hair pink (my mom would’ve been pissed about the graduation pictures otherwise!), moved to California, and started my first job without even giving my brief contact with him a second thought. Then, over a year after we stopped talking to one another, Seraphine — a pink haired, optimistic girl who had just started working toward her dreams — started posting on Twitter, and eventually, became the newest League of Legends champion.

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I can imagine the knee-jerk reaction.

That’s insane! There are thousands of girls with pink hair! How could a random girl think she’s the inspiration for a videogame character in a $6 billion dollar game? She’s clearly based on someone else.

Honestly, I know all of that (and more!) because I’ve been worried sick about what people will say about this if I talk about it publicly for the better part of two months. I’ve tried to think of every criticism or reason someone could call me crazy, but my reasons for believing this all add up to the point that I don’t really mind if a few people are awful to me online (although, please try to be nice?) If you keep reading, I’ll provide the evidence I have as best as I can.

The short version is that a lot of details about Seraphine line up very closely with facts about myself: her name, her drawings, her cat, a lot of her pictures, her hair color, her eye color, her face shape, and even where she’s from.

The long version is below.

[And before someone mentions it, while I don’t know exactly what happened with her development, I didn’t make this up — I’ve hired a lawyer, and I’m seriously considering legal action. My statements are to the best of my knowledge/memory, and I’ve edited carefully to be as clear and fair as I can.]

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The Full Story

In March of 2019, I matched with a Riot employee (I’ll call him John. I’d prefer not to post his identity publicly for reasons I’ll explain further down) on Tinder during a visit to Los Angeles and San Francisco for some final job interviews while I was still in college. He seemed nice, we talked a bit, exchanged contact information, and then he pursued me romantically for the next few months. We talked until May/June (when things ended for other reasons) but we frequently played League together and exchanged messages for ~3 months.

While I knew him, John discussed his job quite a bit, and many of our conversations were entirely about the game, its development, etc. My favorite champion is Ahri, and the first thing that was a little strange was that he would bring up skin ideas that sounded, well, a lot like me.

Then, John flat-out told me that he suggested an ‘e-girl’ or ‘awkward’ skin for Ahri to his coworkers that he implied was inspired by me.

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As you can probably tell from the texts, I thought it was a bad idea, even at the time.

I also played League with John regularly. I’d make jokes and such while we played, and I remember John saying something like ‘we have to put that in’ while we played. I remember asking him not to, even at the time — some jokes an acquaintance of mine had made up, and honestly, I felt weird about stealing it from that friend if it could actually go in the game (which is ironic, I guess.)

John also told me he was partially involved with K/DA’s first skins, informally, because he knew a lot of the people on the team. I’m not sure how much of that was self-inflation or truth, but John definitely implied that he could influence the project, and had successfully suggested things in the past. (I want to be clear: he was not a character or skin designer. I really don’t want to unfairly implicate anyone, especially people who might not have known anything.)

He also suggested I should fly out and voice act for some kind of top secret project, which he didn’t ever reveal, but that he insisted I’d be perfect for.

Near the tail end of my brief friendship/relationship with John, I wrote an academic essay for a class about Piltover and Zaun that I shared with John and discussed with him extensively. He invited me to Los Angeles again and I accepted, touring Riot’s headquarters in May. When I arrived, he had printed out and framed that piece of writing inside Riot’s HQ. He even told me he had shared it internally. I was flattered, but a little self conscious that others had read my writing. I don’t even think he asked my permission. Another strange circumstance was when he gave me some gifts of posters and custom art of me as K/DA Ahri, which he told me Riot illustrators drew based on what he told/showed them about me. While I don’t blame the artists at all — I’m sure their intentions were pure — it was strange for how short of a time I’d known him. I flew home, and we stopped speaking entirely shortly after.

[Since people will wonder about it anyway, the relationship’s end wasn’t particularly juicy: I had just ended a long relationship and was antsy about commitment, I cancelled plans to see him because I thought he was moving too fast and expressed that, then he ended things and blocked me. I don’t really have hard feelings about that part. I hope this explanation is enough to satisfy curiosity, but beyond these basics, I’d like to keep some things personal.]

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Introducing: Seraphine

Over a whole year passed, the pandemic took over headlines, and then sometime this year, Seraphine was released. I honestly hadn’t thought about John very much at all since then — I have a completely different life in the Bay Area now — but as soon as I saw what she looked like and realized she was going to be a League champion, I started scrolling through her accounts, completely freaked out. My worries only grew and my heart sank more and more with every post. While John never explicitly discussed anything concrete, he did mention a K/DA related ‘surprise’ of something that would release around my birthday, which is on September 19th.

One of the only images of Seraphine from her official Twitter account that has a date was posted and dated on September 19th, the first day she ‘worked’ with K/DA.

I had no idea how she was made or how this even could’ve happened, but scrolling through this Twitter and remembering things John said or did, I started to realize that this character — whose very name, Seraphine, is so similar to Stephanie — could seriously be based off me.

I looked into her Twitter account more, and found Seraphine’s art, sketches, and journals. I’m a hobby illustrator and artist, and I remembered I had actually sent John some art. My art is strikingly similar to art that Seraphine ‘makes’ of herself and is posted to her social media. Like, really similar.

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That academic writing I had showed John about Piltover and Zaun? Once her lore was released, I found out that’s exactly where Seraphine is from. She isn’t from Piltover or Zaun, when every other champion I can think of is from one or the other… she’s from both. Her poses with her cat are also eerily similar to pictures I would’ve sent to John in 2019. The timing was about right for his “voice acting” suggestions to have lined up with her development. The more I looked at her page, the worse it got.

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[There are a few random, smaller details that I cut for clarity. I’ll try to post those sometime, but this was taking long enough already.]

OK, maybe she could be based off you — so what?

Well, if you care about me personally at all, it hasn’t been that great.

It may sound kind of fun at first, to have a League champion that looks like you. But I don’t think I’ve even opened League, let alone played a game, since she came out. (One silver lining: I haven’t gotten demoted in a while?) I’ve felt really grossed-out about it, to the point that I can’t play one of my favorite videogames. Besides that, it’s been kind of horrid to have a League champion who looks like you, has so many of your characteristics, and has a NAME that’s almost identical to yours. People I’ve never met send her to me online and point out the similarities, there’s already immense amounts of porn of her, I see people arguing about her near-daily (take a wild guess as to whether I side with the people who think it’s kind of creepy or the people who insist she’s a ~*smol bean uwu*~), and while I do kind of agree that she’s an out of place character for the lore of the game, it does suck to see your features torn apart on a massive scale every time you open your Twitter feed.

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Even worse than all that has been the wondering about whether or not she’s based off me. I waited a while to post anything (partially because I wanted a lawyer first) but also because it’s terrifying to wonder if this happened, but have no way to conclusively prove it. I actually spent a while with her account’s Tweet notifications on, worrying about what personal detail or similarity would be next — it was horrible to guess what part of her appearance could match mine next or what cutesy quirk she might have when it seemed like every Tweet and picture being released only contained more and more similarities.

On the one hand, this is an issue I care about, but I’m very much aware that there are bigger issues going on. Most days, I feel very Kim, there’s people that are dying — it feels very self-indulgent to worry about this at all, but especially nowadays. We’re all still in the middle of a pandemic, we’re discussing mass protests for racial justice, the election just was a mess, etc., etc. I’m always aware of that, and this post isn’t meant to detract from anything more important going on. On the other hand, when I privately shared what was going on in my life with some wonderful women who are more experienced and much wiser than me, I got the same message: This is creepy. I’d be horrified. This might not be life or death, but it seems weird and wrong and you should feel entitled to say something. And at the end of the day, I just couldn’t see any more think pieces or tweets about Seraphine without posting this.

Conclusions/What’s Next?

All-in-all, this whole situation has been really violating. Every article about her makes my stomach turn. It’s both a personal point of frustration and also, I guess, it may be just another way a giant videogame company has screwed over a woman without a second thought— and massively profited off it.

I know this issue is all tied up with this guy that I briefly knew, but I’m not going to toss his name out publicly and throw him under the bus when I don’t even think he works there anymore. And honestly, I also really don’t know how I’d live with myself if this spiraled out of control and ruined his life somehow. I’m not happy about this character, but rather than repeating the harm that I feel was done to me — that is, dragging a person into something much bigger than them without giving them a choice in the matter — I’d honestly rather try to actually change things and shift the focus to Riot. They’re a giant company, can handle a bit of criticism, and, in the end, they’re ultimately responsible for the character existing. This isn’t a personal beef with this guy I briefly dated, this is an institutional issue.

Why? If she really is based off me, Riot could be inappropriately profiting off of my likeness. And that sucks. But on a wider level, Riot is already kind of unfairly profiting off of every single person who feels some kind of attachment to her, consciously or not, because she’s a “person”.

Her skin is for sale at $25 a pop, so “Seraphine” is going to make Riot Games literal millions of dollars. And with her Twitter account posting that she’s insecure and could “really use some encouraging words” because she “needs something to believe in right now”, this character essentially gets every single person who interacts with her pity party to advertise their multi-billion dollar videogame franchise.

If you start to think about it, everyone who responds to her Tweets or Instagram posts is generating advertising and revenue for a $6 billion dollar game company. That entire idea is really disgusting to me, not just because she looks like me, but as a person who consumes and loves games. When hype for something is organic, that’s one thing — Nintendo isn’t exploiting me when I retweet their announcements and say how much I love The Legend of Zelda. But when Riot makes a character that looks and sings and Tweets like a person, they’re knowingly creating a “person” that doesn’t exist in a way that intentionally takes advantage of the way that human beings relate to other people, just biologically and emotionally, and then they’re making tons and tons of money from it. And honestly, as V-Tubers and virtual influencers from Riot and beyond start crossing the line into looking and acting like real people, that’s something that we should all be really concerned with.

If you’ve gotten this far, um, thanks for reading. Frankly, I’m just a girl who just graduated college and has no idea what she’s doing with her life, but I love videogames, and I love(d?) League of Legends. If you asked me why I’m posting this, it honestly does come down to that sense of outrage and anger about this stupid character — about the fact that a company like Riot can try to sell a full person, complete with hopes, dreams, mental health issues, and pink hair as a $25 skin that comes with a walking, talking Twitter feed for you to get emotionally attached to. It’s a quaint idea, but when you think about it more closely, the idea of a marketing team in some office in Los Angeles trying to sell a product by coming up with the most ~relatable~ and marketable things to tweet out of the account of a ‘girl’ who coincidentally looks like me, and talks like me, and sounds like me, and draws like me?

It just makes me sick.

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Written by

University of Chicago

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